Meanwhile The Global Times – a state-run English-language newspaper – accused the US of being a major source of cyber attacks.

"The US is the first country to launch cyber warfare," it said in an editorial published on Monday.

'Double standards'

Citing a US defence expert, Joel Harker, it claimed Washington had a "cyber army of 80,000 people equipped with over 2,000 computer viruses".

Google has said it will no longer follow Chinese laws censoring search results [EPA]
The paper also hit out at what it called "Washington's continuous resort to double standards" over the issue, and said criticism of China's internet policies came "either out of ignorance of the facts, or a Cold War mentality".

The comments came almost two weeks after Google warned it may shutter its China operations and pull out of the country over concerns about censorship and security.

In a separate statement, also carried by Xinhua, China's state council defended the country's internet censorship laws, saying they were legal and should be respected.

The council, China's cabinet, said other parties had no right to interfere in China's domestic affairs.

Attacks

Google's threat to pull out of China came after the company said it had uncovered a "sophisticated" computer attack that tried to hack into its software coding and the email accounts of human rights activists protesting against Chinese policies.

The search giant said that after uncovering the attacks it would no longer follow Chinese laws censoring search results for websites deemed socially or politically undesirable by the government.

The US state department has said it plans to lodge a formal complaint with Chinese officials soon over the attacks.

Last week Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, urged China to launch a full and transparent investigation into the matter and end its censorship of the internet.

In a speech in Washington, Clinton cited China as among a number of countries where there had been "a spike in threats to the free flow of information" over the past year.

China's foreign ministry hit back at the criticism, accusing the US of damaging relations between the countries while a Chinese state newspaper said Washington was imposing "information imperialism" on China.

"We urge the United States to respect facts and stop using the so-called internet freedom issue to criticise China unreasonably," Ma Zhaoxu, a ministry spokesman, told reporters.